The oldest pasta from Rome uses only 3 ingredients and will surprise you

Pasta alla Gricia
Pasta alla Gricia

The oldest pasta from Rome is known as the Roman Fantastic Quartet. Not without reason: it’s easy to make and requires just 3 ingredients. Discover the Pasta alla Gricia and be amazed.

Although Pasta alla Gricia is the oldest, it is the least globally recognized of the so-called “Roman Fantastic Quartet”: the four most famous pasta dishes from Rome – Carbonara, Matriciana, Alla Gricia, and Cacio e Pepe.
It’s also the simplest to make and, in my humble opinion, the most delicious. I tasted it in the Testaccio neighborhood of Rome, a bohemian area brimming with traditional restaurants that offer fair prices and good food.

The flavor of Pasta alla Gricia primarily comes from pork meat. The traditional recipe uses guanciale, which is quite common in Italy but not so much elsewhere. Guanciale is nothing more than a type of unsmoked bacon made from the pig’s cheek.

If you can’t find guanciale or cured cheek, you can use pancetta or even bacon. Certainly, the pecorino cheese and black pepper contribute to the flavor, but they aren’t the stars of the dish. They are mere supporting actors.


If we could go back in time five hundred years, we would find the Romans eating Pasta alla Gricia. Some historians link the dish to the mountainous origins of Pasta Amatriciana, in a small town named Griscian. The recipe has also been associated with German bakers in Rome. But no one is sure of its origin.
What we do know is that ingredients like those in this pasta have sustained people throughout history. Likely, the ancient Romans appreciated a simple dish, one that they could make with what was available to carry, like cured pork, and yet still had a magical taste.

Learn to make this classic Roman pasta at home.



Pasta alla Gricia
The ingredient list for Pasta alla Gricia is laughably short.

  • Guanciale (can be substituted with pancetta or even bacon if you can’t find guanciale)
  • Pasta
  • Italian Pecorino
  • Water
  • Black pepper

To ensure the flavor, it’s recommended to use the finest possible ingredients. That’s Italian cuisine for you: few ingredients of the highest quality. You might substitute guanciale with pancetta or bacon, but if you live in a big city, I recommend seeking out guanciale.

It’s also essential to choose quality pasta, preferably Italian or handmade. It can be spaghetti, fettuccine, penne, or rigatoni. Really, any type will do as long as it’s of high quality.

Using Italian pecorino will add more flavor. If you can find the Roman kind, even better. Have it grated and ready to use as soon as the sauce is prepared.

Lastly, sprinkle generous pinches of black pepper so you’ll taste it in every bite of the dish.



Pork fat is one of the true wonders of cooking. It melts and flavors like few other ingredients.
In this recipe from 2foodtrippers, they recommend letting the guanciale cook on low heat in the pan, allowing it to slowly caramelize. But don’t let it get crispy like fried bacon. Once it’s golden, remove from heat. The pan should be very hot, and it’s in this same pan that you’ll add water and the already cooked pasta. The pasta will release a flavorful broth made from the browned pork fat.

The recipe calls for about one and a half cups of pasta with little water, roughly 5 cups. Cooking the pasta in minimal water will create a thick and sticky broth.

Step by step guide to making the oldest pasta from Rome


Pasta alla Gricia
1 – Start by placing the guanciale (or pancetta or bacon) in the freezer for about 30 to 45 minutes. This step prevents the fat from melting in your hands, allowing you to cut the meat into thin slices.

2 – Trim the skin from the guanciale and then slice it very thinly, about 5 to 10 mm thick.

3 – Place the slices in a pan on medium-high heat. Cook the guanciale until its edges turn golden and the fat starts to render. Switch to low heat.

4 – Remove the pan from the burner if you notice the meat is almost burning.


Important Note
While many recipes suggest boiling pasta in ample water, 2foodtrippers uses less water for two reasons. First, less water takes less time to return to a boil once pasta is added. Second, with less water, there’s a higher starch density, creating a loose paste that thickens the sauce.

If you’re using a long pasta like linguine or spaghetti, it might be easier to use a large skillet to cook the pasta. Otherwise, wait for the pasta to submerge in the water to fit the pot. Do not break the pasta. Italians frown upon that. lol

5 – To start the pasta, heat about 5 cups of water in a pot large enough to fit the pasta.

6 – About 3 minutes before removing the pasta from the pot, turn on the medium heat under the other pan with the guanciale. Roughly 30 seconds before the pasta is ready, al dente, pour about 3 to 4 ladles of pasta water into your other pan. The starchy pasta water not only helps create the pasta sauce but also deglazes the pan, releasing any flavor formed at the base from the pork.

7 – When the pasta is al dente (you can taste to check), transfer the pasta to the other pan using tongs. If you prefer to use a colander, you can move about 1 cup of the cooked pasta water to a heatproof container before draining the pasta. Even though you might not need the water, it’s good to have some in reserve in case the sauce gets too thick.


8 – Next, mix the pasta, pasta water, and guanciale in the same pot. Add more cooking water if needed.
9 – Take the pot off the heat. Add the Italian Pecorino and mix with the pasta. The sauce should be white and creamy. Grind fresh black pepper to taste. If you’d like, you can grate more Pecorino when serving.

Enjoy your meal! Buon appetito!

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